Fondé en 1983 --Unis pour la diversité et l'égalité raciale


Montreal, February 16, 2008 --- CRARR lends unconditional support to a Quebec government bill to ban and sanction SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation), usually launched by big companies against citizens and citizen groups that take public stands against these companies practices.

CRARR presented its position to a standing committee of the Quebec National Assembly, through a brief drafted by McGill law students, including Alex Dearham, Maxime Hébrard and Josie Marks. The brief was positively received by legislators on both sides. Below is an executive summary of CRARR's brief:

CRARR is the only non-profit organization in the province of Quebec that provides a direct assistance service for the representation of victims of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, and other intersecting grounds of discrimination protected by federal and provincial human rights legislation. Many of the individuals that CRARR has assisted have been victims of reprisals as a result of asserting anti-discrimination rights and their right to equality. This provides CRARR with a uniquely qualified perspective regarding legislative reform to address Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

Although concern regarding SLAPPs is frequently expressed in reference to environmental or consumer protection, CRARR submits that an appropriate legislative response must address the negative effects of SLAPPs on the assertion of anti-discrimination rights and civil rights under the Quebec Charter, the Code of Ethics of Quebec Police Officers and the Quebec Labour Code.

To this end, CRARR recommends:

  • Inclusion of right to public participation in the Quebec Charter: CRARR recommends that the right to public participation be included in the Quebec Charter. This would a provide a means by which the courts can better balance the rights to reputation of corporate, governmental and union actors with the rights of individuals and groups to freedom of expression and public participation. It may also help to deter SLAPPs by making it possible to award extra-judicial damages for victims of SLAPPs in exceptional circumstances.
  • Extension of statutory protection against reprisals to the policing and labour contexts: CRARR recommends that the explicit statutory protection against reprisals contained in section 82 of the Quebec Charter be extended to complaints before the Police Ethics Commissioner and by union members under section 47.2 Quebec Labour Code. Protection in the policing context is particularly urgent as strategic lawsuits have already been used in this context to intimidate citizens in many jurisdictions. Continued public confidence in both of these institutions requires that individuals and groups are able to speak out against discriminatory actions or practices of law enforcement officers or union representatives.
  • Procedural reforms: the need for expedited procedures in the context of SLAPPs: New legislation should allow for a defendant to initiate either a motion to strike proceedings or a preliminary summary hearing into whether an action is a SLAPP. This would allow a judge to declare a suit a SLAPP before the final judgment, thus diminishing its drain on time and resources.
  • Procedural reforms: extrajudicial costs and punitive damages -- CRARR recommends that legislation should attempt to deter SLAPPs by allow the award of extrajudicial costs and punitive damages against parties who institute malicious actions, especially against persons who file human rights complaints. This requires an expansion of the limited circumstances in which extrajudicial and punitive costs can currently be granted in order to adequately address the economic burden of SLAPPs.
  • Endorsement of a “SLAPPback” model for awarding punitive damages: CRARR recommends the adoption of California-style anti-SLAPP legislation that allows SLAPP targets to sue the original filers for damages suffered through malicious prosecution or abuse of process.
  • Enhancing access: SLAPP defense funding: CRARR recommends the establishment of a public fund to finance upfront the legal fees and costs associated with defending a SLAPP, similar to Quebec’s public fund for class action lawsuits (Fonds d'aide aux recours collectifs). This would lessen the intimidating effect of SLAPPs by providing SLAPP targets with access to funds to meet initial defense costs before the courts declare a suit invalid.
  • Recognition of the vulnerability of board members to SLAPP : CRARR recommends that legislative reform address the specific vulnerability of board members of not-for-profit organizations to SLAPP. Directors of such organizations, who are frequently volunteers, may be targeted personally by SLAPPs and are often unable to secure director’s liability insurance.

    CRARR takes note that in the Rapport du comité au ministre de la Justice in March of 2007, there are three suggested juridical options on how to incorporate these recommendations. CRARR lends its support firstly to the enactment of a specific bill that encompasses all of the recommendations under one rubric: an act respecting anti-SLAPP.

    As an organization that works in the public interest to denounce racial and other forms of discrimination, it is CRARR’s belief that the adoption of these recommendations for legislative reform is critical to the maintenance of a strong participatory democracy in which all citizens and groups can speak out publicly and freely against discrimination and injustice without fear of reprisals.